By Jamey Dunn
A ruling issued today will allow some couples to wed before the new same-sex marriage law goes into effect next year.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin last month ordered Cook County Clerk David Orr to issue a marriage license to Patricia Ewert and Vernita Gray, who is battling terminal cancer. The couple’s lawyer argued that they deserved the license because Gray’s prognosis means she may not survive to marry when the law goes into effect. Orr, who supports same sex marriage, opted not to defend his office against the suit.
Today, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman issued a ruling that will allow all same-sex couples facing life-threatening illness to apply for marriage licenses before the law kicks in on June 1, 2014. As part of the lawsuit, two couples — Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs, and Ronald Dorfman and Ken Ilio — were specifically granted license applications. Dorfman has been diagnosed with a heart condition, and Gibbs has cancer. The ruling creates a legal “subclass” of couples, who have an “urgent need” to marry before the effective date.
“Given the Illinois General Assembly’s enactment of Senate Bill 10, any erroneous decision here would only result in allowing a relatively few people to marry a short period of time sooner,” Johnson Coleman wrote in her ruling. “The harm to the putative subclass of medically critical plaintiffs, on the other hand, would be far weightier since a denial of relief could effectively deny them the right to marry at all if one member of the couple passes away before June 1, 2014.”
Couples in the state seeking to marry immediately because one or both have a life-threatening illness must get a recommendation from a doctor. Couples must have a doctor complete this certification form, available on the Cook County clerk’s website. Once couples get a certification, they can continue through the standard process of obtaining a marriage license.
The lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. “When you have a terminal illness, every day is significant. Even though we know the freedom to marry is coming to Illinois, the default implementation date of the new law is too far away for these couples,” Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project director for Lambda Legal, said in a written statement. “While no one should be told that they cannot marry for a period of months, for couples who are dealing with a life-threatening medical condition, the delay in implementing Illinois' marriage law could turn out to be an absolute bar to being married at all. We thank the court and the clerk's office for their swift response to ensure that Illinois couples who are struggling with the challenges of a life-threatening illness will have a chance to be married.”